The Pacers Are Having One of the Best Defensive Seasons in Team History

The Indiana Pacers are, in terms of counting points, the best defensive team in the NBA this season, allowing just 101.2 points per game (through games of December 17.)

When you account for pace (Indiana is the league’s seventh-slowest team), their Defensive Rating of 103.3 is second-best in the league.

And if you think that’s impressive, consider the following.

League-wide, teams are scoring by far the most points they ever have per 100 possessions, as league-wide Offensive Rating is 109.7.

Which also means that Indiana’s rating must be put into perspective.

The best Pacers teams in terms of where they ranked league-wide, in reverse chronological order:

2015-16: 3rd (102.9)
2013-14: 1st (99.3)
2012-13: 1st (99.8)
2005-06: 3rd (102.4)
2003-04: 3rd (97.2)

And just for fun, when they were in the ABA:

1972-73: 2nd (98.8)
1971-72: 2nd (98.7)
1968-69: 2nd (102.6)

Now let’s go ahead and take this season and each of those eight seasons that came before and generate what I’m going to call “Defensive Percentage”. Basically, if a team has exactly the same Defensive Rating as the league average that year, they get a 100. It’s a simple percent calculation from there. You’ll see what I mean as we go.

And, of course, all these Defensive Ratings are via Basketball Reference; your mileage may vary if you’re using NBA.com or another source.

2018-19: 94.17
2015-16: 96.71
2013-14: 93.15
2012-13: 94.32
2005-06: 96.42
2003-04: 94.46

Happily, the ABA started tracking offensive and defensive rebounds separately in 1968, and they always tracked turnovers, so unlike the NBA, we have offensive rating data for every ABA season except its first, which includes all three Pacers samples:

1972-73: 93.74
1971-72: 93.37
1968-69: 98.56

So what have we learned?

Well, quite simply, in terms of defensive rating relative to league average, the Pacers’ 103.3 points allowed per 100 possessions is the second-best mark in their history as an NBA team, and you have to go all the way back to the red, white, and blue basketball to find any other seasons where Indiana’s defense was this good, and that was against an ABA that, bless their souls, doesn’t compare to the NBA in 2014 or now.

This Pacers team is special. If you believe that defense wins championships, well, the last time the Pacers’ defense was this good, the only thing keeping them from the NBA Finals was LeBron.

Enjoy it, folks. Just…hope they get better at scoring, because the offense is a whole different can of worms…

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